Triple-A baseball is returning to Tucson, and maybe for beyond the 2011 season.
The San Diego Padres' Triple-A team will play from April to September next year at Tucson Electric Park and could stay longer depending on when a ballpark is built in Escondido, Calif.
Padres owner Jeff Moorad said it was important to have the option for the team to stay in Tucson past 2011. The team is being sold to an ownership group headed by Moorad, who intends to move the team to Escondido. The city council will vote Nov. 30 on construction of a $45 million to $50 million ballpark. If the ballpark is not completed by 2012, the team could stay in Tucson longer. The arrangement calls for the team to play one year in Tucson with an option for a second year.
Moorad said the "interim" stay could possibly turn into longer than a year or two.
"We'll see what develops in North County, San Diego, and frankly whether Escondido wants us," Moorad said. "If they do, we'd love to have the team over in our market. But if that doesn't develop, I think we're going to really stay open-minded about the future."
Moorad said he has had "many positive indications" about the Nov. 30 vote and he is "cautiously optimistic." The plan is for the city of Escondido to pay for the ballpark and infrastructure, and the Triple-A team would keep revenue from ticket sales, concessions and naming rights.
Tucson baseball officials said they would welcome the team for more than a season if it needs a home.
"It might be a one-year deal. We understand that. We know that. But we hope it's more," said Mike Feder, who will be the team's general manager. "If there are bumps in the road in the construction if Escondido passes, we're going to be there with open arms in Tucson. If they go to Escondido and things work out, we'll wish them well. But in the meantime, we're going to have to run this club first-class."
Feder, former general manager of the Triple-A Tucson Toros and Tucson Sidewinders, said a deal is close to being finalized for the team to play at TEP, which has lacked a permanent tenant since the Sidewinders moved to Reno, Nev., after the 2008 season.
The operating group can also show other teams and the Pacific Coast League that Tucson is a good site if they need a ballpark, Feder said.
The Padres' team is relocating from Portland and has been known as the Portland Beavers, but will be renamed. Feder said the team could be called the "Padres," but a name has yet to be decided.
Moorad is familiar with Tucson baseball and the use of TEP. He was general partner with the Arizona Diamondbacks when the Sidewinders won the Triple-A championship in 2006.
Moorad also spoke to Toros owner Jay Zucker, former owner of the Sidewinders, about operating the Padres' team and it playing at Hi Corbett Field. However, Moorad pointed to Feder's experience and said Pima County has made the commitment to keeping TEP's field in good condition.
The Padres' team finished 59-85 in 2010, its last season in Portland. Merritt Paulson is selling the team to Moorad's ownership group after Paulson tried to relocate the team. Its ballpark in Portland is being converted into a Major League Soccer facility.
Officials are hopeful fans support the team. The Sidewinders averaged 3,552 fans in 2008, last in the PCL during their final season in Tucson.
"It concerned us," Moorad said of the lack of fan support. "I experienced it firsthand. Even the year we won the Triple-A championship, the attendance was at best middle of the road. I'm convinced Mike can do a quality job getting the community involved and hopefully supporting the club."
Jack Donovan, former Sidewinders and Toros general manager, will be part of the management team. He said he is hopeful a team plays in Tucson on a long-term basis.
"There'll be so many promotions and ticket levels, that there won't be one person in town that could say, 'I couldn't afford to go,'" Donovan said.
"We'll see what develops in (California) and frankly whether Escondido wants us. … If that doesn't develop, I think we're going to really stay open-minded about the future."
Jeff Moorad Padres owner